As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government grapples with backlash from conservative premiers, court setbacks and internal disputes about how to best implement climate policy, a new study from the UN finds Canada has the widest gap between rhetoric and action.

The findings were published Monday in the annual emissions gap report titled “Broken Record,” owing to the fact temperatures have hit new highs while governments are still failing to slash greenhouse gas emissions. The report examined countries' international commitments under the Paris Agreement, as well as what policies those countries have introduced to uncover what the UN calls the “implementation gap.”

The findings are stark. More than any other, Canada was found to have a 27 per cent gulf between the various policies in place and international commitments. The next widest gap is the United States at 19 per cent, followed by South Korea at 18 per cent. The findings underscore the distance Canadian policymakers must go to bridge pledges under the Paris Agreement (a 40 to 45 per cent cut from 2005 greenhouse gas emissions levels by 2030, and net-zero emissions by 2050) with forthcoming policies like a cap on oil and gas sector emissions.

Implementation gap findings from the UN's Emissions Gap 2023 report. Screenshot/Canada's National Observer

Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault told reporters the UN’s findings are evidence of the need to do more to fight climate change. At the same time, he said Canada is stepping up to the plate and pointed to clean fuel regulations, draft regulations for zero-emission vehicles, draft regulations for clean electricity standards and phasing out some fossil fuel subsidies –– all of which have seen progress this year. He said Ottawa is accelerating its efforts to fight climate change, as it's being asked to do, but emphasized it’s politically challenging.

“Imagine what we could do as a country if we worked together,” he said. Guilbeault then said, unfortunately, some politicians like Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and “some” premiers are more interested in debating whether or not we need to fight climate change. “If we all pushed in the same direction, Canada could be an international leader,” he said.

But as Guilbeault points to hurdles put up by right-wing politicians, internal disputes in his own party over the carbon price led to Trudeau creating carveouts for home heating oil, which largely benefits people in Atlantic Canada. Controversy over the move has since spiralled out of control for Ottawa and risks upending the Liberals’ signature climate policy altogether. Moreover, courts have blown holes in federal efforts to tackle climate change, like the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Impact Assessment Act or the Federal Court’s decision last week that threatens Ottawa’s ban on single-use plastics.

Taken together, the domestic political landscape has become increasingly difficult for the federal government to bridge the gap between rhetoric and action as required by the Paris Agreement.

Monday’s report comes ahead of the UN’s annual climate change negotiations, called COP28, set to kick off in Dubai on Nov. 30. This year’s conference features the first “global stocktake,” referring to the first co-ordinated check-in on progress since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. Countries are expected to submit new emissions reduction targets for 2035 by 2025 and the UN says based on its findings, the new targets must be strong enough to put the world on a path to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 C to 2 C or else there will “likely” be “unbridgeable gaps.” In other words, without much stronger efforts on the part of countries like Canada and other high emitters that have yet to align policies with goals, the Paris Agreement’s targets will be effectively out of reach.

"The window for action is rapidly closing, and unless we act urgently and dramatically to shift away from fossil fuels and embrace green energy, the chances of limiting warming to even 1.5 C are dismally low." #cop28

UN Secretary General António Guterres said the report’s findings are more of an “emissions canyon” than an “emissions gap.” A canyon “littered with broken promises, broken lives and broken records,” he said.

“All of this is a failure of leadership, a betrayal of the vulnerable and a massive missed opportunity,” he said. “Specifically, in their response to the global stocktake, countries must commit to triple renewables capacity, double energy efficiency and bring clean power to all by 2030. And they must also commit to phasing out fossil fuels, with a clear time frame aligned to the 1.5-degree limit.

“Otherwise, we’re simply inflating the lifeboats while breaking the oars.”

The latest emissions gap report presents “a chilling reality” that would be “a betrayal” to current and future generations to not take transformative action now to slash emissions, said Harjeet Singh, who leads global political strategy for Climate Action Network International.

"Our world is teetering on the edge of a catastrophic temperature rise, with predictions pointing towards a 2.5 to 2.9 C increase above pre-industrial levels if current trends continue,” he said. “The window for action is rapidly closing, and unless we act urgently and dramatically to shift away from fossil fuels and embrace green energy, the chances of limiting warming to even 1.5 C are dismally low.

“This vast contrast between our current trajectory and the Paris Agreement goals highlights the failure of rich countries to meet their climate commitments,” he added. “They have not only fallen short in reducing emissions but also in providing essential financial support to nations most vulnerable to climate impacts.”

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Canadians need to wake up and understand that conservative premiers or the federal conservative party are the real problem in this country. Conservative leaders are so far up the sphincter of oil & gas, they have no limits on the long-term damage they are inflicting on future generations of Canadians. Conservative who won't acknowledge that climate change is real.

But Justin Trudeau is also to blame for all his talk-the-talk on the world stage, but has really delivered very little, despite constant hindrance by the right.

Canada has fallen behind the rest of the world; we will never meet any targets.

The other big problem is all the disinformation on social media being gobbled up by naive people incapable of fact checking anything they see or read. You can bet that oil & gas is behind a lot of the disinformation on social media. There was a comment the other day about why should Canada do anything when China is a problem when it comes to climate change, which is far from the truth. China is ahead of the curve compare to Canada, but climate deniers believe China is a problem because social media says so.

As a country we are doomed should Pierre Poilievre ever become PM.

JA wrote: "Canadians need to wake up and understand that conservative premiers or the federal conservative party are the real problem in this country."

Obvious deflection. Conservative premiers and the federal Conservative opposition are not to blame for the Liberals' woeful record on climate.
In Canada, the climate crisis is being driven by politicians and parties across the spectrum. In fact, the federal Liberals and provincial NDP parties (AB and B.C.) have proven far more effective than the Conservatives in delivering on Big Oil's and Corporate Canada's agenda. New pipelines, record production, and record profits.
The deni-osaurs deny the generally accepted science of climate change. Petro-progressives like Trudeau, Notley, and Horgan claim to accept the climate change science, but still push pipelines, approve LNG projects, promote oilsands expansion, subsidize fossil fuels, and let fossil fuel interests dictate the agenda.
The Liberals' plan to fail is entirely on Trudeau & Co.

In reality, Trudeau and Poilievre are the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of climate disaster. Both parties serve Corporate Canada. Only the Liberals are far more effective.
Which is worse? The deniers who deny their house is on fire, or the deniers who accept their house is on fire, but throw fuel on the flames — then stand back and watch it burn?

It's simply revisionist history to blame the Liberals' climate failure on Conservative premiers. The Liberals own it.
Painting the Liberals as sincere climate leaders stymied by Conservative premiers and hostile provinces has no basis in fact. These endless apologies and deflections for Liberal failure on climate are motivated by the same political partisanship we deplore on the other side. Not helping.

Liberal climate highlights:

- Buying and building a new oilsands export pipeline (Trans Mtn expansion) at huge loss to taxpayers.
- Approving new LNG projects in B.C.
- Approving new offshore oil projects on the East Coast (Bay du Nord).
- Subsidies: The Liberals continue to funnel billions of public dollars to the massively profitable, largely foreign-owned O&G industry."Canada leads G20 in financing fossil fuels, lags in renewables funding, report says" (CP,2021)
"Canada's billions in fossil fuel subsidies under mounting scrutiny" (National Observer, 2023)
- Big bets on fake climate solutions: taxpayer-funded white elephants like carbon capture, SMRs, and blue hydrogen that are costly, inefficient, don't exist yet, or don't work.
- Carbon pricing schemes that shield large industrial emitters from carbon pricing.
- Latest cave-in to Atlantic MPs on the carbon "tax" for heating oil.

For years, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Jerry DeMarco has called out the Liberals on their "policy incoherence" on climate. He is being polite.

Canada's climate plan is based on fossil fuel expansion. Trudeau's (actually, corporate Canada's) idea is to "green" (i.e., greenwash) its fossil fuels at the upstream end, not get off them. Incoherent climate policy designed to fail.
When the IPCC issued its latest report, then-Environment Minister "Wilkinson reaffirmed Canada's commitment to phasing out fossil fuels and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but said achieving that target will require money generated by fossil fuels."
"Ottawa says it must maximize revenue from the Trans Mountain pipeline to fight climate change" (CBC, 2021)

Trudeau and Notley moved the ball on the Trans Mountain pipeline down to the ten-yard line. Their signal achievement was to "push country-wide support for pipelines from 40% to 70%." Something Harper, Scheer, Kenney, Smith, and Poilievre could never dream of doing.
Trudeau, Notley, and Horgan did something else Poilievre and Smith could never do: lead progressives over the climate cliff. Many of their acolytes now embrace fossil-fuel expansion.
When Poilievre and Smith say no to a shift away from fossil fuels, the progressive option is still ON the table.
When Trudeau and Notley say no, they took the progressive option OFF the table.
When Poilievre and Smith deny the science, progressives reject their arguments and head in the opposite direction.
When Trudeau and Notley deny the science, progressives accept their arguments and enable their climate sabotage.

Backsliding petro-progressive governments are instrumental in the rise of right-wing extremism and denialism.
The petro-progressive provincial NDP and federal Liberals are not in a tug-of-war with Conservatives over climate. They are dance partners. The NDP and Liberals promote fossil-fuel expansion and take science-based options off the table. This allows the "conservatives" to shift even further right, doubling down on denial and fossil fuel intransigence. But it's Notley and Trudeau who shift the Overton window. It's Trudeau, Notley, and Horgan who shut down the space for science-based climate policy.
The climate plans of the Liberals and provincial NDP are premised on fossil-fuel expansion. It's the Liberals and NDP who ignore the science and undermine the climate movement.
When Danielle Smith jams a wrench into the spokes of renewables, or Poilievre promises to axe the tax, progressives fight back. When the NDP and Liberals build pipelines, progressives applaud or stay silent.
Woe, Canada!

With the UN now warning that the world is on track for a “hellish” 3C of global heating, we need to put at least as much emphasis on adaptation measures as we do to mitigation.